Governor Martin O’Malley ’88, July 3, announced the appointment of The Honorable Mary Ellen Barbera ’84 as Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. Barbera will replace retiring Chief Judge Robert Bell, a member of Maryland Carey Law’s Board of Visitors who has led the court since 1996. She has also been appointed to the law school's Board.
Barbera is the first woman to hold the post of chief judge.
In addition to naming the first female to chief judge, the Governor appointed Court of Special Appeals Judge Shirley M. Watts to the high court. If confirmed, Watts would be the first African-American woman to serve on the state’s highest court, as well as create a female majority on the bench.
O’Malley also announced the appointments of three more women to the trial courts, including alumna Stacey Adele Mayer ’97, his chief legislative officer, who was named to the District Court for Baltimore County.
“These appointments are wonderful news for the state of Maryland—and not just because all of these women have proven records as leaders in our profession,” said Dean Phoebe Haddon. “Their appointments reflect a culture of inclusion, prevalent in the state, where gender and racial diversity continue to grow.”
Governor O’Malley also recognized the significance of his appointments and the outstanding achievements of the senior jurists.
“Judge Barbera and Judge Watts represent the best of the Maryland bar and will do an outstanding job serving on the highest court in Maryland,” said O’Malley in a statement. “Throughout their judicial careers, they have exhibited integrity, intelligence, and compassion. I am honored that we are not only making history today with these appointments, but that the hard work, talents and skills of these women will help us build on the progress we’re making together for the people of Maryland.”
As alumna Sheila Sachs ’64, a Baltimore attorney and chair of the judicial nominating process, told the Baltimore Sun, "I graduated law school when no woman had been hired by a major law firm in Baltimore. Decades afterward, [women] began to come out of law school in greater numbers, they proved themselves, and now you're seeing the result of that. … It's all a recent phenomenon. Thank God, it's happening."
Judge Barbera has been a public servant and a leader throughout her career. In the early 1980s, she taught elementary school for the Baltimore City Public School System while attending the school of law at night. From 1985 to 1989, she worked for the Criminal Appeals Division of the Office of the Attorney General, where she represented the State of Maryland in at least 250 criminal appeals. From 1998 to 2002, she served as legal counsel to Governor Parris N. Glendening. Barbera served as an Associate Judge on the Court of Special Appeals before being named to the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2008.
Judge Watts has served on the Court of Special Appeals since January 2011; she has served in lower courts, worked as an assistant state’s attorney and public defender, and taught law.
Mayer has spent her entire legal career in public service. She was appointed by Governor O’Malley as his Deputy Legislative Officer in 2008 and Chief Legislative Officer in 2012.